- Review Price: £183.00
Little photo printers are becoming all the rage. Forget iPods, 3G mobile phones and paper light laptops because printers have never been so trendy. The run up to Christmas has seen them splattered all over your television screens, magazine pages and even onto the side of the odd bus or two. Yes, it seems we have finally hit the sweet spot where everyone can afford a digital camera and the race to offer Joe Blogs a cheap and convenient printing solution that Mrs Blogs (or vice versa of course) can wrap up and slip under the Christmas Tree, is on. Everyone from Canon to Sony is crying out for us to dip into our wallets, but the mass market specialists are obviously Epson and hp. A few months ago we tested and loved Epson’s PictureMate and found it to be a great solution for turning your digital photos into tangible prints, so the pressure is on hp to pull something equally good out of the hat.
In fact, the pressure is really on hp because Epson definitely came up with a better name for its home photo studio. Imagine going online, or into a computer store and asking for a PictureMate. It’s simple, iconic even – just like asking for an iPod – you don’t even have to know who made it: “I’ll have a PictureMate please”. Take hp on the other hand, Photosmart is also the name for its full size printers, as well as scanners, all-in-one printers and digital cameras. Imagine the same scene: “I’ll have a Photosmart please…” “Um, which product code would that be sir?” You get my point.
For the record, there a couple of variants of the hp range of 10 x 15cm photo printers, the high end 375 which comes with a 6.4cm colour LCD display for previewing and editing prints, as well as bundled Bluetooth support and the cheaper 325 which comes with a 3.8in colour LCD display, but no Bluetooth support (a Bluetooth adapter is optional though). So if you want Bluetooth in the box and a large display the 375 that I’m looking at right now is definitely the route to go down.
So, even though hp could have done a better job of branding its little photo printers, let’s see if what’s inside the box will make up for it. To be fair, things do improve here. The Photosmart 375 is superbly compact, its dimensions at 22 x 11.8 x 11.5cm (WxDxH) are significantly smaller than the PictureMate’s at 25.6 x 15.4 x 16.3cm (WxDxH) and at just 1.2kg it’s less than half the weight of Epson’s 2.7kg unit. This is a truly tiny printer. It does tend to look like a toaster, but then again the PictureMate looks like a bread maker.
For its size the Photosmart 375 does make a couple of compromises. It prints up to 4800 dpi, which is less than the PictureMate’s 5760 dpi and supports SD/MMC, MemoryStick, CompactFlash Type I and II, SmartMedia and xD. Importantly, it does have the same additional USB port as the PictureMate allowing you to connect a CD/DVD writer or memory key to back up your photos directly. However, because the Photosmart 375 comes with a Bluetooth adapter in the box, you’ll have this plugged into the USB port when you’re printing wirelessly – the PictureMate doesn’t come with a Bluetooth adapter, but you can get one as an optional extra. Unlike the PictureMate however, the entire Photosmart series has the benefit of a built in battery for truly mobile printing. So depending whether you are more interested in mobility or picture quality you will already be developing a favourite.
The other big difference between the Epson and hp offerings is the LCD. Epson only offers a monochrome LCD which allows printer settings to be changed and keeps the price down, but hp gives you a colour LCD which means that you can preview and edit each photo on screen before printing. This makes the Photosmart 375 almost £60 more expensive than the Epson PhotoMate, but your readiness to pay it will most likely depend on whether you tend to do the majority of your printing from the computer screen or on the move. If it’s the former there really is no need for the extra expense. Personally, I found the quality of the 375’s colour LCD to be good but I was still uncomfortable doing anything more than basic editing on a 2.5in screen.
So how was it in use? Well, to be honest it was a mixed bag. The 375 operates much faster than the PictureMate with photo prints taking roughly 55 seconds as opposed to just under two minutes. It is also quieter and switches on and warms up much faster than the PictureMate. There are also nice little touches such as the front flap which switches off the printer if closed, eliminating the chance of prints getting jammed or crumpled up on their way out.
The downside is that there is a noticeable drop off in print quality when compared to the PictureMate. Photos come out still looking wet (even though they aren’t) and against the light it is possible to see ridges of ink between different colours. In particular flesh tones are noticeably more fragmented and if you look closely enough you can see where they are broken down into separate oranges and pinks. Let me stress, the quality is not bad as such, it is perfectly useable and no doubt acceptable to the majority of users, it is just not up to the standard of the PictureMate or today’s full size photo printers.
Another area where the PictureMate scored highly was photo durability and here the 375 also cannot match it. Water spots smear the photos and it is possible to accidentally scratch them with your nails. They are no less durable than your average lab prints, but I would recommend buying photo paper with print tabs so you can handle them, whereas this is completely unnecessary with the PictureMate photos which are not only incredibly hard-wearing but also seem to be almost immune from water splashes and fingerprints. Ultimately, though both manufacturers have produced miniature models where the same old Epson quality verses hp speed issue remains.
Bearing in mind that this conflict has kept the two manufacturers pretty much neck and neck in the market place over the last decade one final factor must be taken into account: running cost. Here Epson has a slight edge. With a retail price of £28.99 but available for as little as £22 on some websites Epson offers a “PictureMate PicturePack” which contains a cartridge capable of printing 100 photos and 100 sheets of photo paper. By contrast, HP sells cartridges capable of producing up to 125 photos and separate photo paper in packs of 60. Obviously, this is less convenient and it costs around £29 for a cartridge and 60 sheets of photo paper. From my research, online retailers seemed less inclined to carry large discounts on these separate purchases than they did for buying the Epson PicturePack, though obviously that could change.
In conclusion, I have to say that the PictureMate is the better quality printer with its clearer branding, superior prints and simpler way of purchasing consumables. It is also considerably cheaper than the 375 at around £125 including VAT – that said, the Photosmart 375 is bringing a 2.5in colour screen and bundled Bluetooth adapter to the party, which justifies some of the cost. The tiny size of the 375 is also a major plus if you are going to be on the move, while the Photosmart series’ built in battery will no doubt be a hit with anyone that needs a mobile dark room.
hp has created a stylish and unbelievably portable photo printer but the picture quality is average compared to the Epson PictureMate. The price of the 375 may seem high, but you are getting a built-in battery, Bluetooth adapter and a colour screen for previewing, making the higher price less of an issue. But ultimately, if the quality of your photo prints is important to you, and it should be, then we would recommend going for the PictureMate.
Score in detail
Print Speed 8
Print Quality 6